Who is John Mulvihill?

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Search Google for John Mulvihill and the first three results are a former Irish Labour Party politician, a horse racing jockey, and the Director of Marketing Services at the VML Foundation, whatever that is.

In fact, you have to go to the bottom of page four until you get a hit for John Mulvihill the rugby coach, and that is a four-line story from 2012 about how he was set to become Western Force head coach for the 2013 season. Interestingly, there is no evidence that he ever took up that post.

The story of 51-year-old John Shane Mulvihill is a little-known one on these shores, but as he is now going to be the man to take over from Danny Wilson come the end of the season, we may as well start getting to know him.

Danny Wilson will leave at the end of the season

As a player, Mulvihill was a handy fly-half in his day. Coming through the ranks of the Queensland Rugby Union setup at a time when Michael Lynagh was the incumbent 10, he was capped by Australia Under-21 and would go on to captain his home state, also playing for New South Wales.

With his playing career coming to an end in 1998, Mulvihill went overseas for the first time in his career, joining Navan RFC in Leinster as player/coach. With the team building multi-million pound facilities off-the-field, the Australian led the team to the Leinster League Division One title, and two Provincial Towns Cups during his stay in Ireland.

Heading back to Australia in 2003, Mulvihill returned to education, which he had done alongside rugby in the pre-professional era, combining his role at The Southport School in Queensland, with a position at the Queensland Regional Rugby College and the Gold Coast Breakers.

It was while with the Breakers that Mulvihill teamed up with former Cardiff and Wales coach Alec Evans, and together they steered the side to Queensland Rugby Union Premiership glory in 2004.

Alec Evans Cardiff
Alec Evans was Cardiff coach between 1992 and 1995

On the back of that, Mulvihill took up a new full-time post in Western Australia, as what would become the Western Force was formed, based out of Perth in time for the 2006 Super Rugby tournament. Working under former New Zealand coach John Mitchell, Mulvihill had responsibility for the backs, as well as lending a hand on the rugby development side.

In his time in Western Australia he helped turn the Force into a solid mid-table team, after they finished resolutely bottom of the league at the end of their first season. Two eight-placed and a seventh-place finish would follow, at a time when Super Rugby was all one league made up of 14 teams.

Credited with discovering James O’Connor, Mulvihill was on the coaching staff for over 52 Super Rugby games with the Western Force as they scored 1074 points at an average of just over 20 a game.

He was also the head coach of Perth Spirit in the Australian Rugby Championship’s solo season, before the National Rugby Championship formed a few years later.

He led the Spirit to a semi-final in that competition, coaching a side that included future Wallabies Cameron Shepherd, Nick Cummins, David Pocock and Scott Fardy, before he moved on to pastures new from the Force after the 2009 season.

Specifically Japanese pastures, in a role with the rugby team of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries based in Tokyo, the same side that Shane Williams played for in his Asian stint.

Shane Williams Japan
Shane Williams during his stint in Japan

In two seasons with the DynaBoars, Mulvihill led them to back-to-back third place finishes in the Top East League, the then second tier of Japanese rugby. Unfortunately it was only the top two teams that won the chance to go for promotion, and Mitsubishi missed out by eight points in the first season, and an agonising three in the second.

Mulvihill himself wasn’t going to be tied down in tier two though, taking up a coaching job with Kintetsu Liners in the Japanese Top League in time for the 2011/12 season.

In six seasons with the Liners, Mulvihill would help them to qualify for the All-Japan Rugby Football Championship play-offs on five occasions, that being the prestigious end of season game that also doubles as a title play-off for the Top League.

During that time Kintetsu played 63 games, scoring an average of nearly 32 points per game, in an impressive show of consistency that lasted until Mulvihill’s final season with the Liners, where they narrowly avoided relegation by winning a play-off with a team from the second division.

After that he was recruited by the Honda Heat, based in Suzuka, for the most recent Top Challenge League season after they themselves had been relegated from the Top League.

John Mulvihill Western Force
John Mulvihill has spent the last nine seasons in Japan

Working under head coach Danny Lee, formerly of the Dragons, they steered the Heat to an unbeaten season winning 10 of 10 games, with Mulvihill’s attack scoring a whopping 706 points. An average of 70 points a game, and a full compliment of try bonus points as Honda returned to the Top League, in place of bottom-placed Kintetsu Liners as it turned out.

Now, though, John Mulvihill will move back up to the Northern Hemisphere, where his coaching career began way back with Navan RFC.

A man who has experienced rugby cultures in Ireland, Australia and Japan, Mulvihill has certainly served a long apprenticeship as an assistant coach. Hopefully the contacts built and the experience gained will leave him in good stead at Cardiff Blues.

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